We all know endless variations of, “There are two kinds of people.” This time the divide is over how, as leaders, we exert influence. Half of us over ask. The rest, under ask; which often looks like beseeching. Taken to the level of caricature, it’s Bullies v. Wimps. Over- asking is, quite frankly, abusive. Under-asking is simply ineffective and irritating for all. Both increase resistance in our ‘followers.’ What we want to find, in each moment of asking, is minimum essential influence.
I’m a bully. I may make a first request with spot on sensitivity, but if the first ‘ask’ doesn’t accomplish the task; and I’m not in the present moment and aware, I’ll almost always ADD energy. Which isn’t optimal in about half the situations…with horses or people.
I thought for a long time that, as Boss Mare, I had to escalate in authority when a horse, or human, didn’t meet my expectations. One day, my big chestnut mare, Reba (boss mare in her own right) set me straight. The superintendent of a large school district and 26 of her principals were at my farm for a workshop in leadership. Very sure of myself, (some might say with a swagger) I asked Reba with a familiar hand gesture to come to me. She looked at me and then looked away. I “saw” haughtiness in her and became more emphatic. She moved away. I added a crisp vocal command. And, away she continued, refusing even to look at me. My ego kicked in. After all, I was the boss and the teacher!! With all those people watching, I needed to “win.” I marched towards her with a carrot stick and string, swatting the ground. About 20’ from her I saw the disdain in her eye; another horse might have been afraid. Reba took charge and her look alone was minimum essential influence.
I was stopped cold and completely humbled. With 27 people watching, and tears streaming down my face, authenticity was the only acceptable response. I looked at her and I apologized from the bottom of my heart, both out loud and with my energy. I waited there, in genuine remorse until I saw her soften…and, yes, “forgive” me. Then I went to HER. We had a quiet moment breathing together and when I asked her to walk WITH me, she happily came alongside. I promised her I would never so condescendingly demand anything of her again …she licked and chewed… and it was over. Relationship strengthened. Task accomplished. Bully tuned.
“Wimps” come into my arena and repeatedly ask a horse to do something with the same energy and technique. I equate them to the worn out Mom, repeating endlessly to her children, “Clean your room.” “Clean your room.” “Clean your room;” with absolutely no effect. Like trying to teach a pig to sing, it exhausts her and really irritates the pig.
To ask with minimum essential influence should be our conscious strategy at all times. We must request in such a way that we get their attention AND their willingness to act… without creating resistance. Often now, all I have to do is open my heart and visualize what I want to happen… like putting fly spray on my horses’ faces, and over they walk, sticking their noses out for me to rub it on.
My African Grey Parrot, Tao, demonstrated the concept perfectly a couple of months ago. Fanny, then a 65 lb pit bull puppy, liked to slither around on her belly; playfully pushing herself along with her back legs. One morning, Tao, weighing in at 2 lbs, was strolling across the living room floor coming to share my morning tea.
Fanny sees him and starts slithering towards him. When she is about 3 feet away, he, in perfect Cesar Millan fashion…as he’s seen me do so often in training her, faces her and crisply says, “Uh!”
She keeps slithering. He responds with more energy, “Uh! Uh!”
On she slithers. He stops, looks her straight in the eye and escalates to a firm, “No!”
I am breathless and riveted (and desperately wishing I had a video camera.) He’s cool and collected as she continues towards him.
Fluffing up his feathers and repeating himself with a louder and even more commanding “No!!!,” she stops, turns and walks away. He praises her with a cheerful, “Good Girl!” and continues his walk to his morning tea. That’s minimum essential influence!
Leadership tips for the two kinds of people:
–Determine which type of person you are; and notice (for a few days) how well it’s working for you
–Before asking someone to do something, ask yourself what would be the best way to ask that ‘follower’ for what you want, in this moment.
–Check in: Did your request work? Did it create enthusiasm or resistance?
–If it didn’t work, clear your energy and your beliefs (e.g. Reba’s haughtiness) and ask yourself, “What now?”. That question alone will bring you into the present moment, get you curious, and begin to open your heart.
–If you’re an ‘over asker,’ one way to find a more authentic and effective stance is to apologize when you notice the effect you’ve had on another. It resets the situation (if its genuine!).
–If you’re an ‘under asker,’ raise your energy, change tactics, get playful, but persist until you accomplish your objective…else you’re creating deafness in the organization.
And until next time, Happy Trails, Peggy
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